Army looks to get hi-tech drones; robotic mules to replace animal transport

army looks to get hi-tech drones; robotic mules to replace animal transport

Army looks to get hi-tech drones; robotic mules to replace animal transport

The Army has initiated the process to acquire three niche technologies to sharpen its combat edge, including 130 tethered drone systems for surveillance purposes for long duration and 100 robotic mules for logistics requirements in far-flung border areas.

Additionally, it has initiated the process to procure 48 jetpack suits — a turbine-based individual mobility platform.

A tethered drone system comprises drones that come with a ground-based tether station and can be used for surveillance of targets beyond the line of sight for a prolonged period. They can also be launched in an untethered mode for a certain duration to confirm inputs.

In a Request for Proposal (RFP) issued on Tuesday, the Army said each tethered drone system will comprise two aerial vehicles with combined Electro Optic/Infrared Payloads, one remote video terminal and generator set, one battery charger, one spare battery per drone and a modular carrying case for the system. The systems are required to have a minimum 60 per cent indigenous content and will be procured under the ‘Buy India’ category.

Their weight should be around 15 kg and they should have an endurance of up to six hours in tethered mode and 45 minutes in untethered mode, and should have the capability to be deployed in 10 minutes.

Explained

Why these drones are important

The tethered drones will have an advantage over other drones in the Army’s inventory due to an enhanced surveillance capability over an extended period of time. Longer flight duration for constant surveillance, even for targets beyond the line of sight, with little risk of getting jammed will help troops on ground by arming them with correct intel and target acquisition.

As per specifications mentioned in the RFP, the mission range in untethered mode should not be less than 5 km one way and should be capable of being launched from 4,500 metres above mean sea level and should be able to fly at a height of 500 metres above ground level.

It also stated that the drones should be able to land back home in case of a communication failure, or tether breakage and low battery. The drone systems will come with a tether station, which will act as power supply cable and a data link.

In the last one year, the Army has initiated the process of acquiring a range of indigenous drones for surveillance purposes along with counter-drone systems to act against enemy drones. This includes Switch drones, swarm drones, high-altitude logistics drones, mini remotely piloted aircraft and remotely piloted aerial vehicles, surveillance copters, Heron medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), loitering munitions, runway-independent RPAS, among around 2,000 drones.

In a separate RFP published on Tuesday, the Army said the robotic mule must be a four-legged one, capable of autonomous movement across various terrain, self-recovery capability, and with obstruction-avoidance features. It said the robot must be able to move on uneven terrain and in moderate ascent and descent and should not weigh beyond 60 kg.

The RFP specifications stated that they should be constructed of composite or other robust material and should be able to operate at up to 3,000 metres height, in autonomous mode and GPS-denied environment.

They should be able to climb a staircase of minimum five inches in height and should be able to navigate their way through unstructured terrain, built-up areas and have a shelf life of 10 years, the RFP stated.

A second official explained that the logistics and support system for animal transport is elaborate and cumbersome, and thus robotic mules will be “more efficient and easier to maintain”.

In a third RFP, the Army said it wants to procure jetpack suits that can lift a person safely across deserts, mountains and high-altitude areas at a height of 3,000m. It should be able to achieve a speed above 50 km per hour with a lift capacity of 80 kg and minimum eight-minute flying time. The specifications said the suit must provide control for safe ascent, descent, take-off and landing and movement in all directions.

“The jet pack will enable a soldier to fly swiftly across short distances for operational tasks, which will be a major force multiplier,” the second official quoted above said.

The first official quoted above said the procurements will be in line with the Army’s theme of transformation. “The Army is looking at procuring several niche technologies in line with it,” the official said.

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